Autumn is in the Air

and with it, laminitis…

No, you are not hallucinating! The title is indeed very familiar and refers back to the last available published article, Spring is in the Air.  Many people associate laminitis with the spring and it is probably true to say that the majority of (acute) cases and probably the most severe occur in springtime. Restricted or often no turn-out during the winter followed by exposure to new grass is one of the major triggers for laminitis. With the onset of autumn, these susceptible horses are exposed to conditions similar to the winter/spring exposure; during the summer, they have been feeding on sufficiently rich food that they maintain their sugar levels only to be hammered by the peaks presented by the autumn grasses that, as in the spring, don’t have quite the right conditions to put all the sugars to good use (growth).

However, when we look at the “problem” seriously, it is less laminitis and more the owners that are the danger to the horse. Owners that don’t follow advice, owners that are too embroiled in traditions, owners that consider that they know better, owners that are quite simply bloody-minded!!!

Granted, some cases of laminitis are the result of an accident: the horse breaks out and gorges itself on the stock of chicken feed next door, for instance; others are simply owner ignorance: the horse is overfed on the wrong types of food during the winter, at the same time it is confined to a box 22 hours a day and on the first sunny day of spring, is turned out into the lushest field of rye grass in the whole of Northern Europe! For the whole day…

It is at this point that we get called in… vet and trimmer now working together – or maybe even against each other – to try and get the horse back on track. Not wishing to tar all vets with the same brush, but some – and I can name quite a few – consider shoeing, box-rest and phenylbutazone to be the answer (and we can present all the arguments as to why this is not the route to take). We will take the steps that we as professionals consider essential to get the horse back to normal as quickly as possible but we must have the cooperation of the owner – and that is where it all so often falls down.

The horse must move, must be kept off grain and cereal foods, must not be locked-up at night… And this regime must continue after the horse has recovered. And yet, how many owners revert to their old ways, locking the horse up for up to 22 hours a day, returning to the “two-meals-a-day” commercial food routine with ineffectual balancers, mixers and the o-so-deadly grains and cereals. Even compacted feeds based upon grasses are unacceptable – they cause an imbalance in the continuous digestion of the horse and disrupt the natural working of the intestines. Unfortunately, owners are all too susceptible to the marketing claims of the manufacturers and the back-up of the equine dietary specialists whose research is almost invariably sponsored by the feed manufacturers.

And then the problem rears its ugly head again…and again and again. Sheer bloody-mindedness of the owner puts the horse at risk, initially every spring and autumn and eventually the whole year around – year in, year out.

I would like to say, if you know someone like this with a horse in a similar situation, help them see the error of their ways; but the sad reality is, they will seldom believe you, or they will say “yes, yes, I know…” followed by the inevitable “…but!”

Finally, let me just emphasise once again, I do not wish to tar all vets, nor all owners, with the same brush…


Spring is in the Air

and with it, laminitis…

Although we have come down to earth with a bump and, after the extraordinary February of this year, March has turned out to be a (fairly) normal March, spring is in the air. The trees are beginning to show signs of green, the daffodils are flowering and, here at least, the violets are in full swing. And the grass is starting to grow… Grass has a very bad press these days – and in some ways quite rightly – but should we be panicking?

We have long realised that there is a correlation between grass and founder or laminitis; for many years it was believed to lie in high concentrations of proteins but in recent years we have come to realise that it is a carbohydrate overload in the form of certain sugars that is the primary trigger. Spring grasses have always been to blame but in fact, late summer and autumn grasses can be high in damaging sugars too. So why do we particularly think of spring and is grass really all that bad?

In traditional circles, horses rarely see the light of day in the winter months and will be kept alive on a mixture of hay, possibly haylage, and commercial feed, almost always grain or cereal based with molasses to give it a “temptation factor” and to act is a binding agent. Hay alone is not a big problem, albeit that it is dead grass, it is often of a reasonable quality and has restricted sugar and starch content. Haylage is not simply hay bundled in plastic! Haylage is hay that has been cut “wet” and wrapped immediately. One of the principle reasons for producing haylage is the lack of need to dry the hay for several days, risking it being rained upon. It can also be stored longer, provided it is well sealed and the packing remains undamaged. The disadvantage is that the sugars in the hay are fermented creating a sweet, albeit to some, slightly acrid, smelling soft hay. The alcohol formed by this fermentation is reconverted into sugars by the body. These sugars are then in turn broken down by the body but rather than a slow bacterial breakdown, as with grass and hay, it is a much more rapid conversion similar to grain and cereal. As a result, horses on a diet including haylage and/or commercial feeds are maintaining their blood sugar levels throughout the winter.

Turning out for the first time on a beautiful spring morning, sun shining, birds singing and a crispness in the air that follows an early morning ground frost, would seem to be a great pleasure – and particularly for our horses. But the combination of low temperatures and sunshine will greatly increase the levels of damaging sugars in the grass. Already well stocked up on blood sugars from a winter of restricted movement and bad food, our horse is now confronted with field of delicious grass that will tip the balance completely. The overload results in rapid sugar intoxication and the equally rapid onset of laminitis.

Horses that are kept outdoors 24/7 all year round and not fed any form of grain or cereal based feed are much less likely to suffer from laminitis, even when confronted by the same carbohydrate rich grass. The reason is quite simple; during the winter period, the blood sugar levels drop considerably and a healthy horse will lose weight at this time. This does not mean it loses musculature, but any fat reserves that may have built up during the previous season will certainly have diminished. Because the blood sugar level is now low, the “hit” of spring sugars is not going to have the same effect on the feet. What we are doing, in effect, is breaking the cycle of insulin resistance (IR). If we keep building on the blood sugar levels, year in, year out, then the bomb is bound to go off at some time; if we break the cycle every winter, we effectively “defuse” the bomb. And like many things, if we carry on with a bad habit, the consequences often become irreversible. Insulin resistance is prevalent and is in most cases at the irreversible stage. Metabolic diseases such as PPID and EMS will often have their origins in insulin resistance.

Does the sort of grass make a difference? Yes, and no. Rye grass, very prevalent in Northern Europe because of its ease of growth and high yield, particular for the dairy and meat industry, probably has the worst press – and quite rightly too. Its sugar content is sufficiently high to form a rapid trigger for laminitis problems; nevertheless, many horses that are exposed to rye grass all year round, seem to develop something of a resistance to insulin resistance – a sort of immunity? And horses that are allowed to break their IR cycle every year are highly unlikely to succumb on rye grass.
That said, keeping horses – or any grazer for that matter – on a single type of grass is fundamentally wrong. Different grasses, weeds, plants and shrubs all bring with them their own very important characteristics and properties that horse must be allowed to tap into.
Extract from the Sabots Libres Newsletter, Spring 2016

Laminitis Research

Sadly, all too often, research goes off the rails. What starts out as good intention, collaboration and free exchange of ideas, turns into a race – not for the ultimate cure, but for the most funding to insure “successful” continuation of the project.
Sometimes, research gets “found out”: the recent revelation that the various omega fats were not essential to being healthy – it was based upon one very questionably executed bit of research; anti-oxidants combatting free radicals turns out to be more of a marketing ploy for cosmetic and health-food manufacturers than reality; that saccharine is carcinogenic – when the equivalent of 22 times the human daily intake is injected into rats (I think this would possibly apply to a lot of substances, either natural or synthetic). At other times, the research just continues and gigantic sums of money are invested – not infrequently just to insure that the research remains perpetual and not as a means to an end.
But the worst is research for research’s sake. I can understand the research into lung cancer – even if smoking is a major cause, it is not the only cause so just stopping smoking is only going to help some sufferers. However, research into something we know how to prevent is really malicious. And laminitis is one of those things.
It is known that when horses are subjected to high levels of toxins, one of the first effects is seen in the hoofs. We know that these toxins can vary from (excess) antibiotics and other drugs, through various poisonous plants to incomplete expulsion of the placenta. We also know that by far the most dangerous and prevalent cause, is high levels of fructose. Still the research continues – and in a gruesome way. Perfectly healthy horses are (often force-) fed a high sugar diet resulting in acute laminitis, causing great pain and suffering to the animal. The suffering is relatively short-lived since the horse is then euthanised, often within hours of being fed the sugars, by means of lethal injection, or “humane killer” – otherwise known as the penetrating captive bolt; basically they are shot through the brain.
It is time to stop this sort of research – prevention of this type of laminitis is simple. Stop feeding sugars – either by effective pasture management or, if you really need to feed commercial products (which you don’t), by elimination of the sugars in such products.

Jaime Jackson, director of the American Association of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners (AANHCP) and long time promoter of the natural living environment for horses, is sounding the bell in the States where in the past 5 years, there have been at least four major studies into laminitis. The research situation is Europe is a little less shocking, nevertheless, similar research is undoubtedly taking place somewhere on the European continent. If you are aware of universities or research establishments carrying out research into laminitis – particularly destructive inhumane research, now is the time to call a halt to it.

In the link below, you will find a memo from Jaime Jackson describing the situation – although I cannot entirely agree with his stance on cancer research, and certainly not at European levels, I do agree with the basic message. At the back of the document is a letter – you can use this as a template to write to a research establishment asking them to cease.

Thank you for your support.